Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, March 26, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, March 26, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry. Plus, he gave purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.


Warren Brown: Good morning. Please accept my apologies for not signing on last week. I stayed in a "boutique" New York hotel with an English name and Norman pretensions that is more dedicated to perceptions of class than it is to the needs of 21st Century communications. I should have known better.


Bristow, Va.: Warren, I can spend $20K on a vehicle that provides good MPG 25-30, a great warranty, seating for five, auto and A/C, plus looks good! Thank you for the name and model. Must be new!

Warren Brown: Good morning, Bristow.

Which one was that? The Kia Forte?


Arlington, Va.: Good morning. I always enjoy your column and discussions. Considering 2007/08 used Lexus ES350 or Infiniti G37 sedan as a comfortable daily-commuter car (60 miles round trip). Your thoughts? And is it worth paying extra for G37x AWD for DC-area winters? Thank you.

Warren Brown: Lexus offers good cars, as does infiniti. But here's betting that you'll find a better deal at Buick with the 2011 Regal or the 2011 four-cylinder LaCrosse. Both easily match and, in one case (the LaCrosse CXS with HiPer Strut) beat all things Lexus at a lower cost.


R-class or Sienna?: I really thought I wanted to become a minivan mom and buy a 2011 Sienna. But then I fell in love with a certified pre-owned 2007 Mercedes R-class after taking it for a test drive. Both have about the same bells and whistles packages, and both will cost about the same. I am really torn between the two. Which do you recommend? Thank you!

Warren Brown: The Sienna. The R-Class Mercedes-Benz has been a dud in the new-vehicle marketplace, which means it's also likely to be a dud in the marketplace for used models. Despite Toyota's current problems, the Sienna (for good reason) remains a highly popular family hauler. And, yes, I do have confidence in its quality and safety.


Washington, D.C.: If they're successful, whither Saab? I'd love to see a satisfying-to-drive-sedan-sized hatchback on the market again. What do you think the future holds for them?

Warren Brown: Sabb was lucky to be acquired by Spyker, a high-quality, luxury Dutch automobile manufacturer. Saab gives Spyker a chance to broaden its expertise to semi-mass-market automobiles. I am anxious to see what it does to Saab, which I'm sure will be good.


Looking for a new small car: Hi Warren,

With the excellent incentive deals out there right now, it seems like a great time to buy for those of us who have been thinking about it for a while (I have a 1997 Ford Escort). I'm looking for a new small car. So far, I'm thinking about the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Fit. I know your a big fan of the Fit, especially the Fit Sport. Is there another car in addition to those (in that same price range) we should consider? In particular, is it worth testing the Mazda 3?


Warren Brown: Yes, the Kia Forte. Sedan prices start at $13,695. Ten styles. Available as coupe or sedan. Nicely styled and equipped as the Forte SX sedan ($17,495), which I prefer. 2.4-liter, 4-clinder engine (173 hp/168 foot-pounds torque) matched to an easy-shift six-speed manual transmission. Automatic available. So far, it's my second-favorite (behind the Honda Fit Sport) of 2009-2010.


St. Paul, Minn.: We currently have a 2008 Jeep Cherokee which we will keep; in July we are replacing a leased 2007 Silverado. Looking for a newer but used AWD or 4WD mid-sized SUV. Prefer the creature comforts like leather heated seats, moon/sunroof, and extra power outlets. Looking for something similar to the Jeep, but don't want to have matching vehicles in the garage! Considering things like Murano, Milan...hoping to stay below $17K. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Warren Brown: First, there is nothing "similar" to Jeep. A Jeep is a Jeep is a Jeep. If you want a used four-wheel-drive non-Jeep, I'd start with the Nissan Xterra.


Bethesda: In an earlier chat you mentioned a company that can advise over the phone about tires and ship tires to a local installer. Could you repeat the company's name and phone number? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Yes. It's Tire Rack. Google the contact info. Tire Rack has always worked for me and many others.


Clifton, Va.: Warren, any comments on signficant percentage of 1 series BMW owners not knowing their cars have rear wheel drive and not front wheel drive. Makes sense when you have lsot your mojo and no longer produce the ultimate drivin machine!

Makes sense since Toyota owners when faced with unintended acceleration don't shift into neutral.

Homework assignment for this weekend. Determine if your car has FWD,RWD,AWD or FourWD.

Then on a deserted road with no traffic shift your car into neutral. Yes shift into N and coast. Notice no acceleration and your vehicle loses speed.

Next week understeer and oversteer. Driving Dynamics 101.

Warren Brown: What makes you think BMW-1 buyers don't know the 1-Series is rear-wheel drive? That car starts a tad north of $29K for the coupe and goes up to a base $40k plus for the convertible. I figure that anyone intelligent enough to earn the supporting salaries for those cars is certainly intelligent enough to have done some research to know what he or she is buying.

As for BMW: Like nearly everyone in this Great Recession, it's had a tough time. But it hasn't lost its mojo. Like many of its rivals, the company is offering smaller versions of its traditional rides because of globally changing governmental regulations requiring better fuel economy, lower carbon emissions, et cetera. Gasoline prices will go up again when the economy starts clicking again.


Seattle: Hey Warren -- What has happened to the small-truck market in the US? Nobody's really done anything to their lines in a long time.

Would like to get a small truck with four doors and a canopy, to haul around kids, camp gear and big dog. But other than the Toyota Tacoma (which Toyota wants too much money for), there seems to be slim pickings.

Warren Brown: Good point, Seattle. Many manufacturers have moved away from smll pickups because the "take rate," to use industry lingo, has been much less than desirable--not many customers looking for them. But Ford still offers it's little Ranger. And Dodge still sells the very nice Dakota, which probably will be renamed the Ram Dakota in the future under Chrysler's new Ram Trucks Division.


Washington, D.C.: I have a 2007 Hyundai Elantra SE that I'm thinking of trading in. I was going to get another Elantra, but before I do, should I consider the Kia Forte?

Warren Brown: Yes, D.C., you really should consider the Kia Forte, a surprisingly good little car.


2011 Mustang V6: Have you seen or driven it yet? I hear the initial test drive results should be released next week. I, for one, am pretty excited...

Warren Brown: I've seen and driven it. I like it. It's a fun car. But it's not for me in the real world. I've fallen in love with hot, small rides. And there remains in my heart a warm place for high-performance luxury models... and trucks. I love trucks.It's the Jekyll-Hyde of my automotive personality.


Siver Spring, Md.: Warren, I am 57, kids are off the house and college is paid for. On my bucket list is a rag top Porsche, but I am still saving for retirement. My retirement planning software turns sunny at age 67. 1) For $25k, which would you recommend, a Boxters S or an older 911 and what year. 2) Can you recommend a good Porsche mechanic in the D.C. area?

Warren Brown: That's easy. I'd go with the Boxster S. I'm 62. Must have something to do with age.


Pentagon City, Va.: Good Morning Warren! Missed you last week, hope all is well. Submitting early for a meeting.

My wife and I are in need of buying a second SUV. The purpose will be a ocmmuting vehicle (14 miles one way), road trip vehicle (frequent to FL and to ski resorts), and all around primary use vehicle (so our other one, a 03 Escape, becomes used when we can't carpool to work).

Our budget is 30K and I'd like to get all the bells and whistles (Nav, leather, 4WD for winter, etc.).

I like the '10 Xterra for the 4x4 ability and the look, the '10 Escape (V-6) for all the trinkets included and the gas mileage, and looking at the LandRover LR2 (1-2 years used) for a combination of the above. Do you have a preference for any that I mentioned? Is there one that I'm missing? I obviously like the luxury SUV's too but they will be out of the price range - I'd rather get a non-luxury that is loaded.


Warren Brown: Hello, Pentagon City. I'm fine. Last week was God's way of reminding me that I should choose hotels with less ego and more common sense. I've learned my lesson. In a way, my misfortune contains a lesson for you.

The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain. They are excellent crossover SUVs. You'd be cheting yourself if you don't put them on your shopping list. Trust me on this.


Manhattan, Kan.: Warren, how's your NCAA bracket holding up? Who's your favorite now to win it all! Keep up the good work!

Warren Brown: Ah, Manhattan. In elementary school, high school and college, I was the classic, bookish nerd. In my semi-retirement years, I remain a classic, bookish nerd. I know diddly about basketball. It's hard for me to watch an entire game. And everytime I do watch one, I find myself wondering if those great athletes are also great students, wondering if they will graduate, and asking myself about their futures in the absence of an NBA slot. All of those great universities they represent on the basketball court. I sincerely hope those athletes are taking advantage of what those universities have to offer. That's my bracket. And, historically, too many college athletes have failed to fill it. That saddens me.


Hampton Falls, N.H.: Trying to decide between a Subaru Outback and a Honda CR-V. Any thoughts?

Thank you

Warren Brown: Subaru Outback. Beats the CR-V in all-wheel-drive engineering. Matches it in utility. Very price competitive.


Washington, D.C.: I am changing my mind between a GTI, Mazda 3 speed, Volvo c30, with occasional preferences for the Focus coupe (yeah, I know the last three all pretty much the same car). When I take a break from being indecisive about this, then I turn to the question of manual vs. automatic transmissions. My current car's the first automatic I've ever owned, I don't love it and I'm a comfortable stick driver, so that's pretty much always my preference for a new car. Until I find myself have to extract myself from some urban parking garage with stop and go traffic on a steep ramp and then I reflect on the fact that most of the above do come with some kind of tiptronic transmission, anyhow. What do you think?

Warren Brown: I think the Mazda3 Speed which shifts nicely and easily in manual. You actually fall in love, up close and personal, with this car. Buy it. I accept thanks.


D.C.: There's plenty of information, including your own column, to help decide what cars to buy and how much to pay. But how do you select a dealer? Is price the only consideration (I know you can go anywhere for warranty work)? Or are some dealers more fastidious about prepping new cars, less likely to hustle me at the last minute ("we can't deliver it without rustproofing"), etc.? I don't want to get gouged, but I'm willing to pay a little more for a better customer experience with an honest business. Where do I find the inside story about dealers before they get my money?

Warren Brown: I measure all dealers by two Washington area groups: Jack Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Automotive (Maryland based) and American Service Center (Mercedes-Benz) in Arlington. Here is what they have in common:

. They're honest. There's no high-presure salesmanship of any sort. They won't try to put you in something you can barely afford.

. They respect and, indeed, expect customer intelligence. They assume you have done your homework on your intended purchase. If it's clear that you haven't, they politely suggest that you take more time to study your intended purchase and then come back to shop.

. They keep things simple, especially at Fitzgerald automotive. He offers a price. He tells you why that particular vehicle is priced that way. You can take it or leave it. Eiter way, you can research that price and almost always find out that it's pretty darned fair.

. They both respect you, the person, and treat you with respect.


Warren Brown: Thank you for joining us today. Blessed Passover. Happy Easter.

Thanks, Sakina, for another fine production.

Thanks, Ria, for a late-evening save on necessary vehicle transfers. You are worth much more than I can pay you. Eat lunch.


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